Dangerous territory

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time. The problem was that I had too many thoughts about it and couldn't sort through which ones to tackle first, and which ones to leave off completely.

It started with this story in the New York Times, about hugging in schools and the restriction thereof.

“Touching and physical contact is very dangerous territory,” said Noreen Hajinlian, the principal of George G. White School, a junior high school in Hillsdale, N.J., who banned hugging two years ago. “It was needless hugging — they are in the hallways before they go to class. It wasn’t a greeting. It was happening all day.”

Hugs happening all day? Needless hugging? I'd wait in line for some needless hugging (as soon as I could figure out what that was exactly.) We have metal detectors in our schools and this is what you're complaining about? Where do I start with what's wrong with that?

Can't we be allowed to connect with each other without someone regulating it, defining it, and probably taking every bit of joy (and ultimately any real connection) out of it? Yes, there are dangers in not setting boundaries, especially for our children - but some things go beyond common sense.

And then I thought about tango.
Because I always end up thinking about tango.
And connection.

Does tango attract because it allows us a context to (as freely as we can) connect with another person? For 3 or 4 songs I can embrace and be embraced by another human being, whose name I may, or may not, or may never, know. For those few minutes we have the opportunity to tell our stories to each other with our dance, comfort each other and allow ourselves to be comforted by another person's physical presence in the music. All of this (for some there is more, and for some there is less) in a context that rewards connection instead of discouraging it.

Outside of the milonga, we have to place boundaries between what is my pain and what is your pain; what is my joy and what is your joy. Reaching out to other human beings (certainly to ones you hardly know) is a sign of impulsiveness, weakness, neediness, even sickness. We're constantly conditioned to be self-reliant, self-sufficient, on guard, disconnected. That can't possibly be what it means to be human.

Back to tango . . .

Inside the milonga, we connect with our partners, the music, the floor, the other dancers while moving together in the line of dance. In the moment, our "sphere of influence" expands and becomes nebulous. We can reach out, ideally at our own pace and comfort, to all of those who would reach out to us.

When the music stops we can go back to our lives - hopefully with traces of blissful entanglement, attachment, connection, still lingering over our skin.

(There is a delicate dependency necessary for this environment to work. It has to be safe, physically of course - but also emotionally. The milonga codas/codes serve to put everyone on the same grounding, following the same rules.)


Anonymous said...

Yes, it seems to me that so much of what tango is about is what it is to be human, with all the implications of that phrase. Without that connection, and the acknowledgement of where the tango narrative touches our own story, we are not dancing tango.

And because much of tango music is about the joys and sorrows, the poetry and passion of what it is to be human, it perhaps allows and encourages to be open to these feelings in ourselves and our partners. And to do that, as you say, in a place which is emotionally safe.

There is much to be explored in this subject, as you have suggested; I look foward to reading other people's comments.

happyseaurchin said...

i noticed the hugging thing take root in schools over the last 10 years
and it is a sign of social bonding which is strengthening in teenagers
they will definitely grow up to be different adults...

most of the people who dance tango are older
and they tend to listen to old music
whereas i continued with tango partially because of the benefit it may serve to young people
since it was a dance of improvisation and could be learned easily
bringing two people together to communication/commune
without the often medium of wording

i possess a natural tendency to trust
and hence i find the tango scene perfect
though i often forget that that is what most people are there for
to LEARN to trust

Anonymous said...

Trust is certainly vital. Perhaps tango does nothing more than provide the place in which the connection may take place. Yes, there is such power and potential in the music, but whether we are able to accept and commit to that is something else. Certainly the intensity of the connection varies greatly from partner to partner.

Tango "learned easily"? Hmm, not sure I'd agree with that... the basic steps perhaps.

Sallycat said...

Hi Mari!

I remember when I began to dance tango in the UK. If someone offered me a close embrace I was unsure, it seemed too close.

Now the embraces I love the most are the closest ones, the ones where we shift and 'snuggle in' until we are completely comfortable, and our hearts can touch: the hugs... I love it when the man is exactly the perfect height and shape for me and it feels like we fit and can become one.

I'm sure that learning to love this closeness with strangers in tango has played a part in releasing my British reserve, and helped me to 'hug' life and the people in it more warmly. Big stuff? Maybe. But for me it is true.


Mari said...

thank you magickwords, happyseaurchin and sallycat for your comments. (I'm only just now catching up with them!) I would nver have believed how much I've come to rely on the close tango embrace for coping with the rest of the world. Even in the few months since I posted this, my tango world has changed a great deal. (A lot of it is due to lovely dancers like yourselves who keep inspiring me.)